I was born with a congenital heart defect called Myocardial Bridge. My LAD grew through the wall of my heart rather than laying over the heart. Though I suffered symptoms nearly my entire life, I did not receive my diagnosis until I was 47 years old. Since I was a young boy I experienced things such as AFib, numbness in my left arm, dizziness, and hand trimmers and on occasion, I would pass out. My parents took me to our family physician with no results.
I was an active kid, participating in athletics all through high school. I also competed in college for a few years. I can remember during basketball games in high school challenging myself to do nothing wrong on the floor that would give reason for my coach to remove me from the game. I would ask my coach to leave me in as long as I was not hurting the team. My symptoms were at their worst when resting. Sitting the bench and halftime were a struggle for me. I later learned that with my heart rate so high the blood would flow through the Bridge. At rest, the blood flow would slow or even stop. Proud to say I survived those intense times and was fortunate to play on back-to-back state title teams.
As an adult, I remained active, though not at a level of my younger days. Still, the heart defect finally caught up with me. As we age our heart wall thickens, this completely closed of the artery. After a heart catheterization in 2010, I learned of the defect. My cardiologist at that time encouraged me to remain active, though he said, “that half marathon isn’t going to happen”. He told me surgery might be an option in the future, particularly if the symptoms continue to worsen. Unfortunately this past May they did. After yet another heart catheterization, it was determined that it was time for surgery. The surgeon planned to perform an “unroofing” procedure where he would cut the heart wall “the bridge” and release the LAD so blood could flow freely. However, once in the OR the surgeon learned that the artery tunneled too deep into the heart. He chose to perform a double bypass instead. Seems the flow of blood through the LAD was so poor by this time it naturally clogged another artery. Hence the double by-pass. In ICU recovery the surgeon ordered a beta-blocker, which my heart rejected causing the heart to stop 14 times over the next several hours. I cannot describe the feeling when the code team wheeled the crash cart to the foot of my bed and placed pads on my chest “just in case”. It was hard to see my wife hovering over me. A few hours later my son arrived. It was hard to let them see me this way. Somehow, I pulled through. Maybe I needing to see my kids? Maybe the early morning miles over the years? I do not know, but I’m here!
I am currently in week 25 of recovery and yet to be cleared to run. I am going to the gym four days per week. Recovery has been extremely frustrating and depressing. With no one to talk to here in my area who has gone through a similar experience, I got on-line and found the Iron Heart website. It has been helpful to read other athlete stories of recovery. It gives me hope for a full recovery. I plan to begin reaching out to others in the region to share my experience and perhaps offer support to those battling through similar cardiac experiences. Thank you!
Read more of Barry’s story at www.backnblack.org